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Top 5 Best Hot Air Balloon Festivals

Experience a Hot Air Balloon Festival

Have you witnessed dozens of hot air balloons in the sky at one time? Hot air balloon festivals across the country offer breathtaking views of a kaleidoscope of colors in the sky, as well as a variety of fun activities for a great weekend getaway.  Here are 5 of the oldest and largest hot air balloon festivals held each fall.

hot air balloon

The Great Reno Balloon Race

Reno, NV   Sep 11-13

This 3-day event is the largest free hot air ballooning event in the world. From its humble beginnings in 1982 with just 20 balloons, The Great Reno Balloon Race has taken flight with up to 100 balloons each year and is world-renowned, and locally, a beloved community tradition.

Adirondack Balloon Festival

Glens Falls, NY   Sep 17 – 20

In the early 1970s Walter Grishkot founded the Adirondack Balloon Festival. Today the event draws nearly 150,000 people over 4 days, and has been named one of the Top 100 events in North America.  After Grishkot’s death in 2011, a foundation was set up in his memory to raise funds to promote interest in education in the sciences of aviation and aerospace.

Great Forest Park Balloon Racehot air balloon

St. Louis, MO   Sep 18-19

More than 150,000 spectators come out to watch 70 world-class balloon pilots compete in a race that is almost as exciting from the ground as it is in the air.

Founded in 1973, The Great Forest Park Balloon Race was taken over in 1977 by 4 young, enthusiastic balloonists the “fab four”: John Marlow, John Schaumburg, Dan Schettler and Ted Staley, who continue to organize and run this colossal event and three of the four boast at least one Great Forest Park Balloon Race victory.

The Great Forest Park Balloon Race was inducted into the permanent collection of the Library of Congress on May 23, 2000, as part of the celebration of the bicentennial of our nation’s library.

Plano Balloon Festival

Plano, TX    Sep 18 – 20

This year mark’s 36 years of ballooning in Plano, Texas.  The Plano Balloon Festival is one of the city’s largest celebrations, drawing in excess of 90,000 attendees, and has evolved into an important fundraiser for local nonprofit organizations.  The three-day event offers something for everyone; entertainment, fireworks show, kids activities, sky divers, a variety of food, handmade merchandise, and of course the incredible hot air balloons.

Albuquerque International Balloon Festival

Albuquerque, NM   Oct 3-11

The granddaddy of balloon festivals is the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, which began in 1972.  For nine days every October, the crisp, clear desert skies are painted with a kaleidoscope of color as hundreds of balloons lift off from Albuquerque’s Balloon Fiesta Park.

The high-altitude desert geography in Albuquerque makes it ‘ballooning central.’  The 10,678′ high Sandia Crest to the east of the park and the ancient volcanic cones to the west create a special effect called the “box,” where wind currents allow pilots to fly in almost any direction, sometimes landing right back where they started.

Balloon Fiesta brings together huge numbers of balloons, pilots and festival goers from all over the world and is said to be the world’s most photographed event.

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Hot Air Balloon Festival Activities

Here’s what you can expect to find at most hot air balloon festivals.

  • Mass Ascensions – The most common and popular activity of any festival is the mass ascension, during which all the hot air balloons launch into the air, creating an amazing display of colors and shapes filling the sky.
  • Dawn Patrols – Dawn Patrol pilots take off in the dark and fly until it is light enough to see landing sites. Not only is it a beautiful site in the dark, fellow balloonists appreciate the Dawn Patrol because they can watch the balloons and get an early idea of wind speeds and directions at different altitudes.
  • Balloon Glows – Usually held at night, all the balloons fire their burners and light up at the same time while remaining tethered, creating some of the most spectacular moments of a festival. First- started at the Great Texas Balloon Race in Longview, TX, balloon glows are now a popular event at nearly every balloon festival.
  • Other Festival Activities – Ballooning races and contests, balloon rides, fireworks shows, sky divers, photo contests, kids’ activities, food and wine tasting, and live music.

For a list of other Hot Air Balloon Events throughout the United States, click air balloon


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